Good, Bad & Ugly with the former Port Vale and Oxford United hitman
AT THE age of 17, Martin Foyle was slogging away on a building site whilst spending his weekends playing Sunday League. Twenty years later he was a Port Vale legend, with over 600 career appearances and 185 League goals to his name. Along the way he played with two England internationals, struck up a deadly partnership with a Welsh one (and helped him find a missing tooth), and won a cabinet full of trophies.
And that’s not to mention the decade spent managing at the unglamourous end of the football pyramid, taking in spells at Vale, York City and a Hereford side on the brink of ruin. Now 52, the former striker explains all...
Southampton. I was working as a brickie on a building site and had no ambitions beyond that really. I loved it.
But I was playing for a local side and Tony Glasson, a former Division One referee, recommended me to Southampton. I was 17 when they took me on and I went from building walls to playing with Kevin Keegan, Dave Watson and Mick Channon. Mick was an England international but he was a Salisbury lad like me and took me under his wing. That team had some big stars
but it was a great group.
I’ve got to say Brian Horton. I worked under him twice, at Oxford and Port Vale, and he was an excellent coach. He also gave me my break in coaching so I’ll always be grateful for that.
He was quite softly spoken to the cameras but he was the opposite in the dressing room – none of us looked forward to his half-time team talks, especially if we’d played badly. But by the same token, he didn’t hold anything against you and would be the first to buy you a beer at the bar afterwards.
Brian is a really underrated manager who has been doing good things in the background for many, many years.
Dean Saunders, my strike partner at Oxford. We had a telepathic understanding and anyone who watched us at that time would agree.
It wasn’t something we ever worked on. From the moment we first set foot on the pitch I understood his game and he understood mine. If I dropped, he’d make the run. If I went near post, he’d go far. I remember our team-mates saying ‘Can we play?’ because me and Dean almost used to play our own game.
Mind you, he was a nightmare to room with, absolutely hyper. You’d wake up in the middle of the night with the telly blaring and the lights ablaze because he couldn’t get to sleep!
With Aldershot, from the Fourth Division in 1987. We’d sneaked into the play-offs on the final day of the season and I think we finished something like 18 points behind Wolves.
So when we beat Bolton to get Wolves in the final, they were over the moon – they thought they’d got the plum draw. But we beat them 2-0 at home and then 1-0 at Molineux. I can still remember them being absolutely devastated. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to play in either of those games
because my move to Oxford had already gone through.
As a player, it would be Robin van der Laan or Gareth Griffiths at Port Vale. Both of them were lovely guys with infectious personalities who always had a story or a joke to get the dressing room going.
As a manager, Danny Sonner. My office was right next door to the dressing room at Vale Park and me and my assistant would sometimes just sit and listen to the tales he came out with – none of which can be printed here!
During my playing days at Vale, we’d been to a pre-season tournament on the Isle of Man. Before we boarded the ferry to come home, the manager told us not to have a drink or there’d be trouble.
Obviously, as soon as he’d turned his back we went straight to the bar and, within an hour, our tracksuits were hanging off us. For some reason, we’d decided it would be funny to rip them up and we looked like raggedy-arse Rovers.
Then, to make matters worse, somebody went and tipped our suitcases out into the kiddies’ ball pool in the play area of the ferry.
So me and a couple of other lads ended up wading through the ball pool amongst these bemused little kids, looking for our clothes. It must have looked ridiculous.
The funny thing was, everyone else got caught except us. The manager had gone stalking round the ship rounding people up but he never thought to look in the play park.We just hid there for a while, got changed, and got away with it!
Probably playing until I was 37and-a-half – and still being able to continue. When I retired in 2000, Brian Horton had offered me a coaching job at Vale and £100 appearance money if I stayed registered with the first team. I thought ‘A hundred quid? I’d rather hang my boots up!’
Losing my job at Hereford in 2014. I picked up the manager of the month award for January – and the chairman tried to sack me the very next day!
There was no backing, no ‘Well done, Martin’.
I hadn’t been paid for months on end. The players hadn’t been paid for months on end. They just wanted me off the wage bill.
After that, everything fell apart. Nobody wanted to be there. Dealing with that was my lowest moment in the game, no doubt.
TOUGHEST PLACE TO GO
Always Portsmouth. I never won there and they made it hell for me. I’d only played 12-14 games for Southampton but they never forgot it. It was a big pitch, a hostile crowd and even now that bugger is still there smashing his drum.
FAVOURITE PLACE TO GO
West Brom, the Hawthorns. I always scored goals there. I don’t know why, but I’d always pinch a goal against them home and away.
Some teams, you wake up in the morning and you just know you
aren’t going to score against them, even if your team wins.
With West Brom, it was the opposite – I just had a feeling that no matter what happened, I’d have a decent game.
Individually, I’d say Ian Cranson at Stoke at the height of his fitness. He was a very strong, very quick defender who could have played higher but for his knees.
As a duo, I’d go for Graham Roberts and Paul Miller at Spurs. They were a pair of dirty b******s who always did me off the ball.
But the hardest of the lot were Noel Blake – a mate of mine now – and Kevin Ball at Portsmouth. I still remember when we played them at Fratton.
We were winning 2-1 and Dean Saunders – who was getting married the next day – swung an elbow that caught Blakey flush in the face.
Blakey just got up and said ‘You’re f***ing dead’. Sure enough, two minutes from time, he caught Deano with a pearler of an elbow that knocked his front tooth out.
So for the last two minutes of the game, Dean’s on all fours looking for his tooth.
Even after the whistle went, he was still crawling round the 18-yard box!
Unbelievably, he found it, stuck it in some milk and then glued it back on.
And if you look at his wedding photos, he’s doing this weird sideways grin in every one!
In the short-term, I’m helping Port Vale’s Under-15s and it would be great to help local lads progress. This area was great to me and I’d like to give something back.
Ultimately, though, I just want to get back into coaching and management.
I feel I’ve got lots to offer and experience of League One, Two and the Conference.
I loved it at Hereford – most of the time.
We finished sixth in the Conference despite not being paid from November onwards and people in football understand what an achievement that was.
We also saved over £850,000 in two months – we cut everything to keep that club afloat.
I’m proud of our work there but it would be nice to manage a stable club and give out a 52-week contract for a change!
GOAL-DEN DAYS: Martin Foyle celebrates hitting the net for Port Vale